October 27, 2017
By John Heisler
If Notre Dame football qualified as anything resembling a secret through the first half of the 2017 season, that ended last weekend with the resounding Irish win over USC. But that was last week. Now the Irish take on a North Carolina State squad rested in the same way (thanks to an open date last weekend) that Notre Dame was a week ago when it took on the Trojans.
The Irish had little time to celebrate their biggest win over USC in 40 years. This marks the first time Notre Dame faces consecutive top-15 opponents at Notre Dame Stadium since 2007 (losses to both Boston College and USC). The Irish have not beaten consecutive top-15 foes at home in 28 years—since wins over USC and Pittsburgh in 1989.
It’s been 37 years since NC State played in a regular-season game with both squads rated in the top 15. The Wolfpack hasn’t won a matchup of that type since 1967 (at Houston).
Here are some areas to check out Saturday in South Bend:
1. Strength against strength. This may be the juiciest matchup yet this fall for the Irish—Notre Dame’s running game against the NC State defense, especially its rush defense. The Irish rank sixth nationally at 317.9 rushing yards per game. The Wolfpack rates sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (91.3). Something has to give.
2. Will Ryan Finley still be perfect after Saturday? NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has thrown 313 straight passes without an interception (while completing 172 in 2017 for 1,968 yards and 11 scores). Last year he threw 139 passes to start the year before having one picked off. This year the Wolfpack averages 290 passing yards per Saturday. NC State and Georgia Tech are the only teams in the country yet to throw an interception (Notre Dame has thrown only four). Can the Irish do something about that?
3. Nobody makes mistakes. Notre Dame rates fourth nationally in turnover margin. NC State stands 10th. It’s rare when either team is credited with a miscue. Turning the ball over even once—or heaven forbid, twice!—could be the difference on Saturday.
4. Keep an eye on the all-stars. Watch this matchup—Irish running back Josh Adams (and his tailback sidekicks) and an offensive line led by all-stars Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson versus an NC State defense headlined by end Bradley Chubb, selected the ESPN Midseason Defensive Player of the Year.
5. Know the opponent. Here are names Irish fans need to know--the fourth-best player in the country so far this season in all-purpose yardage in Nyheim Hines (178.43 yards per game), the sixth-best quarterback in terms of completion percentage (Finley at .694) and the eighth-best pass receiver in terms of catches per game (Jaylen Samuels at 7.7 receptions per outing).